Battle of Singapore

Battle of Singapore

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= Battle of Singapore

caption= Lt Gen. Arthur Percival, led by a Japanese officer, walks under a flag of truce to negotiate the capitulation of Allied forces in Singapore, on February 15, 1942. It was the largest surrender of British-led forces in history.
partof= Pacific War (World War II)
date= January 31February 15 1942
place= Singapore, Straits Settlements
result= Decisive Japanese Victory, Japanese occupation of Singapore
combatant1= Malaya Command:
flagicon|India|British III Corps
flagicon|Australia 8th Division
flagicon|UK 18th Division
flagicon|Malaysia|1895 Malay Regiment
flagicon|Straits Settlements Straits Settlements Volunteer Force
combatant2= Twenty-Fifth Army
flagicon|Japan|alt Imperial Guards
flagicon|Japan|alt 5th Division
flagicon|Japan|alt 18th Division
flagicon|Japan|alt 3rd Air Division
flagicon|Japan|naval Imperial Navy
commander1= flagicon|UK Arthur PercivalPOW
flagicon|Australia Gordon Bennett
flagicon|UK Lewis HeathPOW
flagicon|UK M. Beckwith-SmithPOW
commander2= flagicon|Japan|alt Tomoyuki Yamashita
strength1= 85,000
strength2= 36,000
casualties1= 2,000 killed
5,000 wounded
50,000 captured [Altogether the Allied forces lost 7,500 killed, 10,000 wounded and about 120,000 captured for the entire Malayan Campaign]
casualties2= 1,713 killed
2,772 wounded [cite book
last = Smith
first = Colin
title = "Singapore Burning"
publisher = Penguin Books
year = 2006
pages = p. 547
isbn = 0-141-01036-3
The Battle of Singapore was fought in the South-East Asian theatre of World War II when the Empire of Japan invaded the Allied stronghold of Singapore. The fighting in Singapore lasted from February 7, 1942 to February 15, 1942.

It resulted in the fall of Singapore—the major British military base in South East Asia—to the Japanese, and the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history. About 80,000 Indian, Australian and British troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the Malayan campaign. Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the ignominious fall of Singapore to the Japanese the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British history.


Japan decided to invade Malaya because it needed the valuable natural resources Malaya could provide to use in its Pacific War against the Allies. Singapore, to the south, was connected to Malaya by the Johor-Singapore Causeway. The Japanese saw it as a port which could be used as a launch pad against other Allied interests in the area, and to consolidate the invaded territory.
The Japanese also sought to eliminate those in Singapore who were supporting China in the Second Sino-Japanese War. The ethnic Han Chinese in Malaya and Singapore had through financial and economic means aided the Chinese defence against the Japanese. The effort however suffered from factionalism, as the aid was split between the opposing sides of the ongoing Chinese Civil War. Despite the Xi'an Incident, which had supposedly united both the ruling Kuomintang Party and the Communist Party of China against the Japanese, fighting between them was still common. The funds were further split as some was used for humanitarian relief of the Chinese civilian population in addition to aid to the Kuomintang and Communist party of China. Such aid had contributed to the stalling of the Japanese advance in China. Tan Kah Kee was a prominent philanthropist within the Singaporean Chinese community, and was a major financial contributor, with many relief efforts organized in his name. Aid to China from the population of Singapore in its several forms became part of Imperial Japan's casus belli motivation to attack Singapore through Malaya.

Invasion of Malaya

The Japanese Twenty-Fifth Army invaded Malaya from Indochina, moving into northern Malaya and Thailand by amphibious assault on December 8, 1941. This was virtually simultaneous with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was meant to deter the United States from intervening in Southeast Asia. Japanese troops in Thailand coerced the Thai government to let the Japanese use Thai military bases for the invasion of other nations in Southeast Asia and then proceeded overland across the Thai-Malayan border to attack Malaya. At this time, the Japanese began conducting strategic bombing of sites all over Singapore, and air raids were conducted on Singapore from this point onwards, although anti-aircraft fire kept most of the Japanese bombers from totally devastating the island as long as ammunition was available.

The Japanese Army was resisted in northern Malaya by III Corps of the Indian Army and several British Army battalions. Although the 25th Army was outnumbered by Allied forces in Malaya and Singapore, Japanese commanders concentrated their forces. The Japanese were superior in close air support, armour, coordination, tactics and experience. The Imperial Japanese Army Air Force was more numerous, and better trained than the second hand assortment of untrained pilots and inferior allied equipment remaining in Malaya, Borneo and Singapore. Their superior fighters, especially the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, helped the Japanese to gain air superiority. The Allies had no tanks or armoured vehicles, which put them at a severe disadvantage.

The battleships HMS "Prince of Wales" and HMS "Repulse" and four destroyers ("Force Z") reached Malaya before the Japanese began their air assaults. This force was thought to be an "unsinkable" deterrent to the Japanese. Japanese aircraft, however, sank the capital ships, leaving the east coast of Malaya exposed and allowing the Japanese to continue their amphibious landings.Japanese forces quickly isolated, surrounded, and forced the surrender of Indian units defending the coast. They advanced down the Malayan peninsula overwhelming the defences, despite numerical inferiority. The Japanese forces also used bicycle infantry and light tanks allowing swift movement through the jungle.

Although more Allied units, including some from the Australian 8th Division, joined the campaign, the Japanese prevented the Allied forces from regrouping, overran cities, and advanced towards Singapore. The city was an anchor for the operations of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command (ABDACOM), the first Allied joint command of World War II.

On January 31 the last Allied forces left Malaya and Allied engineers blew up the causeway linking Johore and Singapore. Japanese infiltrators—many disguised as Singaporean civilians—crossed the Straits of Johor in inflatable boats soon afterwards.


The Allied commander, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival had 85,000 soldiers, the equivalent, on paper, of just over four divisions. There were about 70,000 front-line troops in 38 infantry battalions—17 Indian, 13 British, six Australian and two Malayan—and three machine-gun battalions. The newly-arrived British 18th Infantry Division under Major-General Merton Beckwith-Smith was at full strength, but lacked experience and appropriate training; most of the other units were under strength as a result of the mainland campaign. The local battalions had no experience and in some cases no training. [ cite web | title=The Malayan Campaign 1941 | url= | accessmonthday=December 7 | accessyear=2005]

Percival gave Major-General Gordon Bennett's two brigades from the Australian 8th Division responsibility for the western side of Singapore, including the prime invasion points in the north-west of the island. This was mostly mangrove swamp and jungle, broken by rivers and creeks. In the heart of the "Western Area" was RAF Tengah, Singapore's largest airfield at the time. The Australian 22nd Brigade was assigned a 10 mile (16 km) wide sector in the west, and the 27th Brigade had responsibility for a 4,000 yard (3,650 m) zone just west of the Causeway. The infantry positions were reinforced by the recently-arrived Australian 2/4th Machine-Gun Battalion. Also under Bennett's command was the 44th Indian Brigade.

The Indian III Corps under Lieutenant-General Sir Lewis Heath, including the Indian 11th Infantry Division, (Major-General B. W. Key), the British 18th Division and the 15th Indian Brigade, was assigned the north-eastern sector, known as the "Northern Area". This included the naval base at Sembawang. The "Southern Area", including the main urban areas in the south-east, was commanded by Major-General Frank Keith Simmons. His forces comprised about 18 battalions, including the Malayan 1st Infantry Brigade, the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force Brigade and Indian 12th Infantry Brigade.

From aerial reconnaissance, scouts, infiltrators and high ground across the straits such as the Sultan of Johore's palace, the Japanese commander, General Tomoyuki Yamashita and his staff gained excellent knowledge of the Allied positions. From February 3 the Allies were shelled by Japanese artillery.Japanese air attacks on Singapore intensified over the next five days. Air and artillery bombardment intensified, severely disrupting communications between Allied units and their commanders and affecting preparations for the defence of the island.

Singapore's famous large-calibre coastal guns—which included one battery of three convert|15|in|mm|0|sing=on guns and one with two convert|15|in|mm|0|sing=on guns—were supplied mostly with armour-piercing (AP) shells and few high explosive (HE) shells. AP shells were designed to penetrate the hulls of heavily armoured warships and were ineffective against personnel. It is commonly said that the guns could not fire on the Japanese forces because they had been designed only to face south, but this is not so, although the lack of H.E. ammunition was an error of the same sort and possibly due to the belief that an invading army couldn't come from the north. Although placed to fire on enemy ships to the south, most of the guns could turn northwards and they did fire at the invaders. Military analysts later estimated that if the guns had been well supplied with HE shells the Japanese attackers would have suffered heavy casualties, but the invasion would not have been prevented by this means alone.

Yamashita had just over 30,000 men from three divisions: the Imperial Guards Division under Lieutenant-General Takuma Nishimura, the 5th Division under Lieutenant-General Takuro Matsui and the 18th Division under Lieutenant-General Renya Mutaguchi. The elite Imperial Guards units included a light tank brigade.

The Japanese landings

Blowing up the causeway had delayed the Japanese attack for over a week. At 8.30pm on February 8, Australian machine gunners opened fire on vessels carrying a first wave of 4,000 troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions towards Singapore island. The Japanese assaulted Sarimbun Beach, in the sector controlled by the Australian 22nd Brigade under Brigadier Harold Taylor.

Fierce fighting raged all day, but eventually the increasing Japanese numbers—and the superiority of their artillery, aircraft and military intelligence—began to take their toll. In the northwest of the island they exploited gaps in the thinly spread Allied lines such as rivers and creeks. By midnight the two Australian brigades had lost communications with each other and the 22nd Brigade was forced to retreat. At 1am further Japanese troops were landed in the northwest of the island and the last Australian reserves went in. Towards dawn on February 9 elements of the 22nd Brigade were overrun or surrounded, and the 2/18th Australian Infantry Battalion had lost more than half of its personnel.

Air War

-Air cover was provided by only one squadron, RAF No. 232 Squadron, based at Kallang airfield. This was because Tengah, Seletar and Sembawang were in range of Japanese artillery at Johore Bahru. Kallang Airfield was the only operational airstrip left; the remaining squadrons were withdrawn from Singapore by January.

This fighter force performed considerably well, but was outnumbered and often outmatched by the Japanese A6M Zero—it suffered severe losses, both in the air and on the ground during February. The only reliable aircraft left was the Hawker Hurricane, but only ten were left in Singapore when the Japanese invaded.

From December 8, Singapore was subject to aerial bombing by long-range Japanese aircraft, such as the Mitsubishi G3M ("Nell") and the Mitsubishi G4M ("Betty"), based in Japanese-occupied Indochina.

During December, 51 Hurricane Mk II fighters were sent in crates to Singapore, with 24 pilots, the nuclei of five squadrons. They arrived on 3 January, 1942, by which stage the Buffalo squadrons had been overwhelmed. No. 232 Squadron was formed and No. 488 Squadron RNZAF, a Buffalo squadron converted to Hurricanes. 232 Squadron became operational on 20 January and destroyed three Ki-43s that day, [Cull, Brian and Sortehaug, Brian and Paul. "Hurricanes Over Singapore: RAF, RNZAF and NEI Fighters in Action Against the Japanese Over the Island and the Netherlands East Indies, 1942". London: Grub Street, 2004. (ISBN 1-904010-80-6), pp. 27–29. Note: 64 Sentai lost three Ki-43s and claimed five Hurricanes.] for the loss of three Hurricanes. However, like the Buffalos before them, the Hurricanes began to suffer severe losses in intense dogfights.

During the period January 27–January 30, another 48 Hurricanes (Mk IIA) arrived with No. 226 Group (four squadrons) on the aircraft carrier HMS "Indomitable", from which they flew to airfields code-named P1 and P2, near Palembang, Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies. The staggered arrival of the Hurricanes, along with inadequate early warning systems, meant that Japanese air raids were able to destroy a large proportion of the Hurricanes on the ground in Sumatra and Singapore.

On the morning of February 8, a number of aerial dogfights took place over Sarimbun Beach and other western areas. In the first encounter, the last ten Hurricanes of 232 Sqn were scrambled from Kallang Airfield to intercept a Japanese formation of about 84 planes, flying from Johore to provide air cover for their invasion force. In two sorties the Hurricanes shot down six Japanese planes for the loss of one of their own—they flew back to Kallang halfway through the battle, hurriedly re-fuelled, then returned to it. [cite web | title=Hawker Hurricane shot down on February 8, 1942 | url=
accessmonthday=August 11 | accessyear=2007

Air battles went on over the island for the rest of the day, and by nightfall it was clear that with the few machines Percival had left Kallang could no longer be used as a base. With Percival's assent the remaining Hurricanes were withdrawn to Palembang, Sumatra, and Kallang became merely an advanced landing ground. No allied aircraft were seen again over Singapore, and the Japanese had full control of the skies. [Percival's "Despatches"]

The Second day

Believing that further landings would occur in the northeast Percival did not reinforce the 22nd Brigade. During February 9 Japanese landings shifted to the southwest, where they encountered the Indian 44th Brigade. Allied units were forced to retreat further east. Bennett decided to form a secondary defensive line, known as the "Jurong Line", around Bulim, east of Tengah Airfield and just north of Jurong.

Brigadier Duncan Maxwell's Australian 27th Brigade, to the north, did not face Japanese assaults until the Imperial Guards landed at 10pm on February 9. This operation went very badly for the Japanese, who suffered severe casualties from Australian mortars and machine guns, and from burning oil which had been sluiced into the water. A small number of Guards reached the shore and maintained a tenuous beachhead.

Command and control problems caused further cracks in the Allied defence. Maxwell was aware that the 22nd Brigade was under increasing pressure, but was unable to contact Taylor and was wary of encirclement. In spite of his brigade's success—and in contravention of orders from Bennett—Maxwell ordered it to withdraw from Kranji in the central north. The Allies thereby lost control of the beaches adjoining the west side of The Causeway.

The Japanese breakthrough

The opening at Kranji made it possible for Imperial Guards armoured units to land unopposed there. Tanks with flotation equipment attached were towed across the strait and advanced rapidly south, along Woodlands Road. This allowed Yamashita to outflank the 22nd Brigade on the Jurong Line, as well as bypassing the Indian 11th Division at the naval base. However, the Imperial Guards failed to seize an opportunity to advance into the city centre itself.

On the evening of February 10, General Archibald Wavell ordered the transfer of all remaining Allied air force personnel to the Dutch East Indies. By this time the last airfield at Kallang was so pitted with bomb craters that it was no longer usable.

On the evening of February 10, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, cabled Wavell, saying:

Wavell subsequently told Percival that the ground forces were to fight on to the end, and that there should not be a general surrender in Singapore.

On February 11, knowing that Japanese supplies were running perilously low, Yamashita decided to bluff and he called on Percival to "give up this meaningless and desperate resistance". By this stage the fighting strength of the 22nd Brigade—which had borne the brunt of the Japanese attacks—had been reduced to a few hundred men. The Japanese had captured the Bukit Timah area, including most of the allied ammunition and fuel and giving them control of the main water supplies.

The next day the allied lines stabilised around a small area in the south-east of the island and fought off determined Japanese assaults. Other units, including the Malayan 1st Infantry Brigade, had joined in. A Malayan platoon, led by Lt Adnan bin Saidi, held the Japanese for two days at the Battle of Pasir Panjang. His unit defended Bukit Chandu, an area which included a major allied ammunition store. Adnan was executed by the Japanese after his unit was overrun.

On February 13, with the Allies still losing ground, senior officers advised Percival to surrender in the interests of minimising civilian casualties. Percival refused, but unsuccessfully sought authority to surrender from his superiors.

That same day military police executed a convicted British traitor, Captain Patrick Heenan, who had been an Air Liaison Officer with the Indian Army. [ [ Peter Elphick, 2001, "Cover-ups and the Singapore Traitor Affair"] Access date: March 5, 2007.] Japanese military intelligence had recruited Heenan before the war, and he had used a radio to assist them in targeting Allied airfields in northern Malaya. He had been arrested on December 10 and court-martialled in January. Heenan was shot at Keppel Harbour, on the south side of Singapore, and his body was thrown into the sea.

The following day the remaining Allied units fought on; civilian casualties mounted as one million people crowded into the area still held by the Allies, and bombing and artillery fire intensified. Civilian authorities began to fear that the water supply would give out.

Alexandra Hospital massacre

At about 1pm on February 14 Japanese soldiers approached the Alexandra Barracks Hospital. No resistance was offered by anyone in the building, but the Japanese attacked and killed the medical staff and some patients, including an allied corporal who was lying on an operating table. The following day about 200 male staff members and patients, many of them walking wounded, were ordered to walk about 400 metres to an industrial area. Anyone who fell on the way was bayoneted. The men were forced into a series of small, badly ventilated rooms and were imprisoned overnight without water. Some died during the night as a result of their treatment. The remainder were bayoneted the following morning. [cite web | title=Alexandra Massacre | url= | accessmonthday=December 7 | accessyear=2005 ]

The fall of Singapore

By the morning of Chinese New Year, February 15, the Japanese had broken through the last line of defence and the Allies were running out of food and some kinds of ammunition. The anti-aircraft guns had also run out of ammunition and were unable to repel any further Japanese air attacks which threatened to cause heavy casualties in the city centre.

At 9:30 a.m, Percival held a conference at Fort Canning with his senior commanders. Percival posed two alternatives. Either launch an immediate counter-attack to regain the reservoirs and the military food depots in the Bukit Timah region and drive the enemy's artillery off its commanding heights outside the town, or capitulate. All present agreed that no counter-attack was possible. Percival opted for surrender.

A deputation was selected to go to the Japanese Headquarters. It consisted of a senior Staff Officer, the Colonial Secretary and an interpreter. They set off in a motor car bearing a Union Jack and a white flag of truce towards the enemy lines to discuss a cessation of hostilities. They returned with orders that Percival himself proceed with Staff Officers to the Ford Motor Factory, where General Yamashita would lay down the terms of surrender. A further requirement was that the Japanese Rising Sun Flag be hoisted over the tallest building in Singapore, the Cathay Building, as soon as possible to maximise the psychological impact of the official surrender. Percival formally surrendered shortly after 5.15pm.

The terms of the surrender included:
*The unconditional surrender of all military forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) in Singapore Area.
*Hostilities to cease at 8:30 p.m. that evening.
*All troops to remain in position until further orders.
*All weapons, military equipment, ships, planes and secret documents to be handed over intact.
*To prevent looting, etc., during the temporary withdrawal of all armed forces in Singapore, a force of 1000 British armed men to take over until relieved by the Japanese.

Earlier that day Percival had issued orders to destroy before 4 p.m. all secret and technical equipment, ciphers, codes, secret documents and heavy guns. Yamashita accepted his assurance that no ships or planes remained in Singapore. According to Tokyo's Domei News Agency Yamashita also accepted full responsibility for the lives of British and Australian troops, as well as British civilians remaining in Singapore.

Bennett, along with some of his staff officers, caused controversy when he handed command of the 8th Division to a brigadier and commandeered a small boat. [ [ Lieutenant General Henry Gordon Bennett, CB, CMG, DSO] an Australian War Memorial article] They eventually made their way back to Australia.

The Japanese Occupation of Singapore had begun. The city was renamed "Syonan-to" (Japanese: 昭南島 "Shōnan-tō", literally "Light-of-the-South Island"). The Japanese sought vengeance against the Chinese and to eliminate anyone who held anti-Japanese sentiment. The Imperial authorities were suspicious of the Chinese because of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and killed many in the Sook Ching Massacre. The other races of Singapore, such as the Malays and the Indians were not spared. The residents would suffer great hardships under Japanese rule over the following three and a half years.

. Many of those aboard the ships perished.

The Japanese were highly successful in recruiting Indian soldiers taken prisoner. From a total of about 40,000 Indian personnel in Singapore in February 1942, about 30,000 joined the pro-Japanese "Indian National Army", which fought Allied forces in the Burma Campaign.cite web | title="Great in adversity": Indian prisoners of war in New Guinea | url= | last=Stanley | first=Peter | publisher=Australian War Memorial | accessmonthday=February 15 | accessyear=2008] Others became POW camp guards at Changi. However, many Indian Army personnel resisted recruitment and remained POWs. An unknown number were taken to Japanese-occupied areas in the South Pacific as forced labour. Many of them suffered severe hardships and brutality similar to that experienced by other prisoners of Japan during World War II. About 6,000 of them survived until they were liberated by Australian and U.S. forces, in 1943–45.

After the Japanese surrender in 1945 Yamashita was tried by a US military commission for war crimes committed by Japanese personnel in the Philippines earlier that year, but not for crimes committed by his troops in Malaya or Singapore. He was convicted and hanged in the Philippines on February 23, 1946.

ee also

*Battle of Malaya
*Pacific War
*British Malaya Command - Order of Battle
*British Far East Command


*Dixon, Norman F, "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence", London, 1976
*Bose, Romen, "SECRETS OF THE BATTLEBOX: The History and Role of Britain's Command HQ during the Malayan Campaign", Marshall Cavendish, Singapore 2005
*Shores, Cull "Bloody Shambles: The First Comprehensive Account of Air Operations over South-East Asia Dec. 1941-April 1942", Grub Street, London, 2007
*Bose, Romen, "KRANJI:The Commonwealth War Cemetery and the Politics of the Dead", Marshall Cavendish, Singapore, 2006
*Kinvig, Clifford, "Scapegoat: General Percival of Singapore", London, 1996, ISBN 0-241-10583-8
* John George Smyth, "Percival and the Tragedy of Singapore", MacDonald and Company, 1971, ASIN B0006CDC1Q
*Peter Thompson, "The Battle for Singapore", London, 2005, ISBN 0-7499-5068-4HB
* Seki, Eiji. (2006). [,+Japan,+and+the+Second+World+War&client=firefox-a "Mrs. Ferguson's Tea-Set, Japan and the Second World War: The Global Consequences Following Germany's Sinking of the SS Automedon in 1940."] London: Global Oriental. 10-ISBN 1-905-24628-5; 13- ISBN 978-1-905-24628-1 (cloth) [reprinted by University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2007 -- [ previously announced as "Sinking of the SS Automedon and the Role of the Japanese Navy: A New Interpretation"] .]
*Smith, Colin, "Singapore Burning: Heroism and Surrender in World War II " Penguin books 2005, ISBN 0-670-91341-3


External links

*National Heritage Board, [ Battlefield Singapore]
* [ Bicycle Blitzkrieg - The Japanese Conquest of Malaya and Singapore 1941-1942]
* [ Royal Engineers Museum] Royal Engineers and the Second World War - the Far East
* [ The diary of one British POW, Frederick George Pye of the Royal Engineers] . Fred Pye was a POW for 3½ years, including time spent building the Burma Railway. He managed to save, write on and bury scraps of paper, and after the war compiled them into a readable form.
* [ Animated History of the Fall of Malaya and Singapore]

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